A "Brief" Tutorial On The Italian Road Bicycle and its Merits!

Italian road bikes have a mystique. This cannot be argued. This mystique creates appeal and desire. These bikes are works of mechanical art, built by artisan frame builders who inject a passion and interest into their frames unlike other builders. Italian bikes are every bit conversation pieces as they are world-class sporting gear. A thoughtfully built, sized, and equipped Italian road bike is truly an extension of one’s personality.

As you move on in this collection of information, you will read about how the Italian bikes we sell are steeped in this mystique, how they are built with passion and unmatched workmanship, how they perform and ride unlike most other bikes. Basically we’re going to peel off some of those layers of mystique. BUT, we think that the underlying details are so worth knowing, you won’t even feel the mystery being unveiled. It is all great reading. But, it ends up being even better …RIDING!  Artisan frame building is a lost art...but the frame builders at Torelli and Guerciotti are producing incredible products these days.  Antonio Mondonico is a living legend in this business.  His work cannot be matched.



To begin, we want to educate you a bit on tangible things like geometry, sizing and how we like to classify Italian style bikes into two groups – RIDING bikes and RACING bikes. All of our thoughts here are specific to the Italian bikes we love so much. READ ON TO LEARN WHY ITALIAN BIKES ARE SO GREAT:


Looking past the mystique, passion and craftsmanship, one thing that stands out when comparing an Italian road bike to most others is the frame geometry. The geometry of a bike frame refers to the configuration of frame tubes and the angles at which they meet each other. A bike frame is basically made of two triangles, a front triangle and a rear triangle. A bike frame’s geometry has everything to do with how the bike rides, how it feels, how it performs, how it responds to the rider’s maneuvers, how it climbs, descends and much, much more. "Stage" geometry gets its label from STAGE RACING. This means the bike is designed to ride well and perform for long periods of time on a variety of road conditions. You can ride a stage bike many different ways. You can hammer it on short sprints or you can lay back, pace yourself and wait for your opportunity to make your move….or NOT…you can just lay back for 5 hours if you prefer. No one will issue you a traffic ticket for riding for FUN!

Bikes using Italian STAGE GEOMETRY are heavily FIT ORIENTED. The general ride quality, personality and performance of the bike depends on the rider using the correct size frame and that the full bike is set up (fit) properly for them. This "general" rule applies to all bicycles, but has been lost or buried in recent years with the advent of production lines and robotic mass builders. Some Italian bikes come in 18 different stock sizes in increments of just one-half of a centimeter. There are many choices to be made to FIT a rider properly.

Sizing and Fitting a customer properly to a road bike has also become a lost art. With less and less biking knowledge and experience being available to the consumer at the retail level, many companies "force" certain ideas or components to make it easier on the retailer to sell or service items. For instance, Linear Pull Brakes (V-brakes) were hurried onto every level of recreational bikes a few years back partly because they were painfully easy to set up "correctly"…this meant many more bikes being sold would have brakes that actually worked well…a novel concept eh?! COMPACT frame geometry makes it easier to sell someone the correct size COMPACT BIKE…but this is more about guesswork than a full working knowledge of how a rider is supposed to fit onto his or her bicycle.

Torelli, Mondonico and Guerciotti are ready to accommodate every rider properly with many stock frame sizes and custom frame options. Smart Cycles is well prepared to size and fit road bike clients with excellent equipment and tons of experience…not to mention a lot of interest, passion and pride.


COMMON QUESTION: If Italian Stage Geometry is so great…why does any other type of frame design even exist?

With the exception of some very SPECIFIC USE designs - for example time trial bikes, track bikes, and pure touring bikes – most other popular, or COMPACT or SEMI-Compact frames exist purely due to manufacturing constraints. Let us be straight here…we are NOT dismissing COMPACT and SEMI COMPACT frames as poor designs or poor performing bikes. We sell plenty of them. A lot of races are won on compact frames. BUT, we believe that the overall ride quality and riding experience of the Italian style bikes is BEST. Back to manufacturing for a moment. Commercial bike companies pump out thousands, tens of thousands…even hundreds of thousands of pre-packaged bikes at great full bike prices. Compact geometry allows them to offer you one of five different sizes. About 80% of the "general public" can be "fit" onto compact frames within the guidelines that the manufacturers set as "proper fit". If a rider falls into the other 20% and doesn't fit a compact frame well, we've noticed that the problems they encounter are magnified greatly. Imagine GIANT (a leader in road bikes) trying to manufacture 12 or 15 different models in 15 or 18 different sizes, keeping them in stock at all times, limiting close-outs, turning inventory quickly, etc, etc, etc. Well, they probably could do all of that….but certainly NOT at the price that they can do it at by only having to make 5 sizes. From a business standpoint, it makes much more sense for a mass producer of good quality bikes to make compact frames.  We don’t think that this point can be argued. Enough said!

There really isn’t a fully "standard" Italian geometry chart that applies to all frames coming out of Italy. Different Italian builders have different ideas of how their bikes should ride. Some builders use a steeper seat tube angle, some a longer top tube, etc. However, they ALL design their frames to deliver the riding characteristics we describe next:

General Ride Quality and Personality of Italian Bikes
A fine Italian bike frame with STAGE GEOMETRY delivers a luscious ride. The Bike and rider are involved in a "dance"…one reacting to the others movement to create a seamless, efficient flow. Italian bikes are fast. They ride with the best stability available. They climb well. When fitted properly to the rider, an Italian bike is as
comfortable as it gets. "It goes downhill like a cannonball in a groove"…says one of our customers when describing his bike’s performance on a fast descent! A rider instantly has greater confidence and is a better cyclist when they are on a bike that has all these features.

People who want to experience their riding environment while cycling are going to love a bike built in the Italian style. If you want to go out and FEEL the road below you, FEEL the bike respond to your input, and FEEL and experience the bicycle’s many riding personalities…you are very well suited to owning one of these babies.

There will be times where you realize that your bike is in total control of you and your ride…you are no longer steering it…the bike is taking you along for a thrilling ride! You do not get this when you buy a cookie-cutter commercial bike made on a production line. AND…you certainly do not need to be a racer to enjoy these benefits and take full advantage of these fantastic bikes. READ ON…


RIDING bikes vs. RACING bikes
Our Italian bikes are easily classified into two categories. Racing bikes and Riding bikes. There is a lot of overlap between these two styles. A good racing bike needs to be a good riding bike. Afterall, racers need speed, stability, good climbing and good descending qualities in their bicycles… they also need COMFORT whether they admit it or not! The big differences between the RACING bike that a serious competitive rider needs, and the RIDING bike that an enthusiast will get the best service from are more about equipment, materials, specific needs for specific events, and price …NOT about differences in fit, geometry, and basic riding characteristics. There are some exceptions of course, but in general this is the way it is. A testament to the Torelli, Mondonico and Guerciotti bike lines is that all the models except maybe the extreme ones (entry level vs. top model) can cross over into both the riding and racing categories.

A few words about how the construction of these frames, and who is building them, makes the biggest difference in the end product: First, let us state that Italian frames are works of art as much as science. As the end user, YOU THE CUSTOMER, certainly want this artistic, passionate component present in the building of your frame. Quality lost on a production line is not a factor here. There are no tolerances accepted outside of making a frame as perfect as it can be. Perfection is not the same as mass duplication!

You can give the same Columbus tubes, lugs, tools, and other frame components to two different builders and get two vastly different end products. Go to "PIZZA SHACK" and order a pie, then a week later go to a small Italian Pizzeria known for quality and tell us if the seemingly same flour, tomatoes, cheese and other common ingredients ended up tasting the same or how your body handled the two meals differently. A friend of ours is a master carpenter. He has the same tools and uses the same materials as previous carpenters did at the job sites he goes to. His specialty is re-construction. He gets hired by insurance companies and banks to repair sloppy, or outright horrible work done by other "builders". I think we’ve made our point.

Part of buying a Torelli, Mondonico or Guerciotti is the trust and knowledge that the person building your frame is a MASTER ARTISAN consumed with making every bike he lays his hands on a piece of scientific, ride-able art. Tubes are selected by hand. Cuts are made to perfection. Mitering is done to be seamless. MOST importantly…whether your frame is welded or brazed, you can rest assured that the builder has not overheated the frame materials. This is the most difficult skill to learn and the reason that builders undergo LONG apprenticeships before they are considered MASTER FRAME BUILDERS. Overheating of tubes and lugs SAPS the performance qualities of the tubing your frame is built with. "Hard Spots" then develop and the frame is NOT ALL IT CAN BE. Hard spots are an example of "acceptable" imperfections caused by a production line. This is FAILURE as far as our Italian friends are concerned. It is true that certain materials are less affected by heat, but these expensive and exotic materials are not meant to be put in the hands of inexperienced builders for the purpose of making the frame easier to weld. None of this is a worry for the customer who selects Torelli, Mondonico or Guerciotti.


We really think it would be hard to find a store and staff that has more experience with REAL ITALIAN Stage Bikes than Smart Cycles.  Along with this experience comes un-compromised passion, knowledge, understanding of fit, un-equaled ability to  design and build the PERFECT bike for our client, and so much more that is priceless in value for the consumer!  

Below: 11 PURELY CUSTOM Mondonico masterpieces arrive at Smart Cycles!  




Raw Mondonico frames arrive at Smart Cycles!

Yes, some of these bikes can get up there in price. If your tastes fall in this upper level, you will not be disappointed with your goods! But, for others, the good news is that you can get a fine Italian bike with name brand equipment for the same price as a mid-level commercially made bike. Feel free to contact us for quotes.

We believe in budgets. Spend what you can…spend what you are comfortable spending. We see people struggle with how to spend their dream bike dollars. To assemble the best possible riding rig, follow the rules below:

Where to put your dollars, in order of importance:

      1. Frame
      2. Wheels
      3. Saddle and Tires
      4. Pedals
      5. Drivetrain Equipment and Brakes
      6. Color and Paint Quality (hey…it has to look good and last!)
      7. Everything Else…

Sizing and Fit
You can read the details on our proprietary SIZING and FITTING system called SMARTFIT HERE. We will make it painfully clear that the most important part of a road bike purchase is getting a bike that fits you correctly. You need to get the correct frame size and then you need to be fitted to the whole bike properly. We’ll let you get all the details out of the SMARTFIT section. But to make the point again, remember that Italian Geometry and overall bike performance is dependent and built on the cyclist riding the proper frame size and that the full bike is properly fit to the rider! AVOID THOSE "GREAT DEALS" on Ebay…it might be a great deal, but if it doesn’t fit right…you are ‘outta luck…you’ll look good…but feel..well, um….crappy!

Steel is REAL!
We hear and read that steel road bikes have made a "comeback". COMEBACK? We don’t think that they have really gone anywhere. Fans of steel bikes have remained loyal. As recently as 20 years ago, a professional rider feeding his family with his pedaling talents rode a steel (cromoly) bicycle. End of story as far as frame materials went. Steel was the gold standard. Since then, many different materials have come onto the scene…some more successfully than others. The general consensus remains to this day that steel (cromoly) frames deliver the best overall ride. Other materials might make a frame stiffer, lighter, more aerodynamic, and in some cases some materials might make a frame even MORE compliant and comfortable than steel tubes, but the idea is still to make them all ride as close to steel as possible.

Making a great frame that rides incredibly well requires the balance of all these characteristics (comfort, shock dampening, weight, stability, traction, etc.). These attributes are all directly related to one another. Making a frame lighter automatically changes or "digs into" one of the other distinguishing performance features. So all of these important riding aspects must be considered carefully and be balanced. It seems that steel frames keep this balance at a more favorable ratio than any other frame material.

The number of brands offering a full line of steel bikes is dwindling. This is great news for Torelli and the Mondonicos, but a sad statement of where the bike industry has gone in the last 20 years.

We know many dedicated riders who have been riding aluminum or carbon for the last few years and have decided to go back to steel, purely for the quality of the ride and the experience that a steel bike delivers. Frankly, a lot of them want a more comfortable bike that doesn’t beat them up in certain riding situations. These are men and women who have logged many miles on stiff, tight, robotic frames for years and they are quite simply tired of the lack of personality in their rigs. We mention durability and longevity when speaking of steel frames. Aluminum and Carbon frames have an effective "performance lifespan" that is much shorter than steel. This means that the quality of the ride deteriorates over time. It doesn’t refer to an all-out frame failure. We think it is fair to say that a good steel frame, built properly, can last 25 or 30 years if cared for. Aluminum and carbon frames are much less predictable, but we think it is reasonable to say that they won’t have the lifespan of a fine steel frame.

Here are the major reasons riders love steel frames:

Best Overall Ride Quality, Comfort and Shock Absorption (important in our area with the quality of our roads)
Stage Bikes Have the BEST Stability
Steel Provides the BEST rear wheel Traction
Greatest Durability
Best Longevity – 30 Year Bikes!
Many Construction Options to Suit Rider’s needs and to make rider FIT the highest priority
Very Favorable for CUSTOM Builds
Low Weight
CLASSIC and Traditional!


This topic is best left for in store conversation, but let us type a few words on the matter.  First off, proof is in the pudding: we've built full bikes with lugged, steel frames that weigh in UNDER 17 pounds.  And NO, they did not cost $6000.  Most of the steel bikes we build weigh in between 18 and 19 pounds.

Today's aluminum frames are the lightest available.  There are some exceptions, but if you want to talk about top-shelf, proven, stage style frames, this remains accurate. Titanium is light no doubt, but it has lost the label as the LIGHTEST bike material.  Carbon, in general, is light....but in some specific cases it is NOT.  When you consider ride quality, you can debate for hours on weight vs. material.  Ask us (in store) to explain to you how some companies at the TOP of the food chain have decided that Titanium and Carbon on their own don't make for very good bike frames at all.  The combination of these materials is another story.  More on this when you visit us!

Aluminum seems to be the material that has come closest to the goal of doing what steel does but with less weight.  20 years ago, aluminum was lighter than steel but it was harsh riding and too stiff.  [There is a great story about an engineer from a BIG CORPORATE BIKE COMPANY in the pits at the Tour De France in the early 1980's.  A team competing in THE Tour was riding his company's newest aluminum frame.  When the riders returned from the stage, they we assembled under a tent to meet with the engineer for a feedback session.  The engineer, through an Italian speaking helper asked "How was the ride on our great new frame"....the riders muttered to each other in Italian and their collective reply came from the one team member that spoke a few words in broken English, with a heavy twist of Italian accent..."It's a-fast, but it's a-too a-hard!"]

As higher quality materials and aluminum alloys became available, tubing manufacturers became more and more able to make aluminum tubes with a thinner wall thickness which reduced stiffness and even lowered weight more.  BUT, at the same time, steel tubing benefited from new alloys and advancements in production and design.  Steel tubing is now much lighter than it had been. Also, frame parts like lugs, bottom bracket shells, seat collars, etc. have been slimmed down by new materials and production techniques to reduce full frame weight even further.  This lends some proof in our eyes that steel is still at the forefront of frame material.  If steel is "OLD SKOOL" or "RETRO" or whatever you want to call it, contact Columbus, Reynolds, True Temper or some of the other steel tubing manufacturers and ask them why they continue to spend millions of dollars on R&D for steel tubes!

Remember that what you lose in weight you gain in many other departments.  A light steel frame is 3 to 3.5 pounds*.  A SUPER light Aluminum frame is 2.5 pounds*.  So we are talking about .5 to 1 pounds net difference.  If your absolute 1st priority is building as light a bike as possible, you won't choose steel.  If you want a very light bike that performs and rides to the highest quality standard, you will love a steel frame.

*REAL WEIGHTS...not catalog weights or tech sheet weight!

Aluminum, carbon, and titanium are fine frame materials. After all the touting we’ve done here about steel frames, you still might very well be better off with another material. No worries, our friends at Torelli, Guerciotti and Mondonico all know this very well and all 3 brands offer frames made of these materials, and of course, all are crafted in the Italian Style. If you aren’t sure what is best for you, please consult with us. We can give you solid advice. We will always throw the warning flag if we think a customer is wandering down the wrong path when buying a bike or making a fit decision.  Ultimately, it is your choice, but we are here to help you match your desires and needs with the right product.

The contents of this page are exclusive property of Smart Cycles Inc.  No reproduction is allowed.  Copyright 2004 Smart Cycles, Inc. Norwalk, CT USA

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